Native Design
DesignSTL|May/June 2020
SUE AND ANDY LEAHY’S GARDEN IS A MAGNET FOR POLLINATORS AND PEOPLE ALIKE.
KIM HILL

It may be hard to believe, as you eye the following three pages, resplendent as they are with life and beauty, that Sue Leahy wasn’t much of a gardener until she got hooked on native plants 12 years ago. ¶ But today, her yard—both front and back—is home to nearly 200 species of plants, nearly all of them native to the Midwest. An advocate for sustainable gardening, Sue serves on the board of Wild Ones St. Louis, a nonprofit that seeks to restore and establish native plant communities. She is also passionate about education. That made her decision to open her garden to hundreds of visitors during the 2019 Sustainable Backyard Tour easy. ¶ Sue is drawn to natives for many reasons, she says, including their extensive root systems, which hold soil and slow water runoff, and their ability to attract birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to her yard. ¶ That wildlife is what transformed Sue from an uninformed sometime gardener into an evangelist for natives: “I like the wildlife the plants have brought to the backyard—the birds, butterflies, and bees are what I’m all about. I’m not doing this because I like to garden.” ¶ Last summer, at Design STL’s request, Sue welcomed photographer Greg Rannells to her Brentwood home. He captured the life cycle of the garden in three phases, from high summer to early fall. ¶ “I enjoy the plants, don’t get me wrong, but the plants are the means to the end,” says Sue. “I’m trying to do my little part to improve the overall health of the planet, because God knows it needs help.”

WHAT’S JUMPING IN JULY?

In the Leahy garden, it all started with a stream pond and waterfall. After their installation, in 2007, toads began appearing in the springtime, singing and laying their eggs. Sue enjoyed watching the tadpoles and decided that she wanted to attract more wildlife. So she and her husband, Andy Leahy, planted a butterfly garden, although there was no real master plan for the backyard. Then she attended a lecture by entomologist Doug Tallamy on the importance of natives in biodiversity. During his talk, Sue turned to her husband and whispered, “We’re not done.”

Each year, the Leahys have chosen to tackle one big project—including the rain gardens, in 2009 and 2013; the rebuilding of the pond, in 2013; and the installation of a butterfly garden, in 2007. Andy has done nearly all of the hardscaping: building stone walls, setting walkway pavers, finding the stone bench, and rebuilding the pond in 2013. “He says, ‘Sue plans and I do,’ and that’s about right,” she says, laughing. “I could not have done this without him.” Sue acknowledges that the work they did in the early years was substantial, but it’s paid off. These days, she does a minimal amount of weeding and trimming to keep the walkways clear and the edges of her beds orderly. The stone bench is a favorite spot for watching butterflies, bees, and birds.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM DESIGNSTLView All

IN GOOD TIME

With the help of interior designer Robert Idol, a Kirkwood couple creates a home that pays homage to the past, yet feels just right for their modern young family.

5 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

Let's Dish

"Food Raconteur” Ashok Nageshwaran wants to tell you a story.

2 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

The Right Move

New shops and showrooms bring exciting opportunities for local designers, makers, and arts organizations to sell their wares to home enthusiasts here and everywhere.

2 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

Green Dreams

Painter and gardener Lauren Knight branches out.

3 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

Cultivating Kokedama

Chris Mower of White Stable Farms discovered the Japanese style of gardening in Italy. Now, he’s bringing it to St. Louis.

2 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

Graphic Mood

Letters, icons, and illustrations that speak in a hand-drawn language

2 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

AUDRA's New Digs

Audra Noyes, of the Saint Louis Fashion Fund Incubator’s first class, opens an atelier in Ladue.

2 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

Color Block

A background in sculpture trained artist Aly Ytterberg to see objects more fully.

3 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

A Modern Story

How a little log cabin went from being a home to a guest house

3 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

Cut from the Same Cloth

“Turkey Tracks” is a 19th-century quiltmaking pattern that has the appearance of little wandering feet. Patterns like the tracks, and their traditions and myths, have been passed down through the generations, from their frontier beginnings to today, where a generation of makers has embraced the material as a means of creating something new. Olivia Jondle is one such designer. Here, she’s taken an early turkey track-pattern quilt, cut it into various shapes, and stitched the pieces together, adding calico and other fabric remnants as needed. The result is a trench coat she calls the Pale Calico Coat. Her designs are for sale at The Rusty Bolt, Jondle’s small-batch fashion company based in St. Louis. —SAMANTHA STEVENSON

3 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021
RELATED STORIES

Erika Tal-Shir

PLAYTIME, DREAMY WORLD AND TREASURES

3 mins read
Art Market
Issue #56 February 2021

Making Goals

Each composition Sue Miller paints has specific technical goals to enhance the overall vision

6 mins read
International Artist
December - January 2021

Battery survey

We asked a group of voyagers about their vessel’s batteries and their future battery plans

10+ mins read
Ocean Navigator
November - December 2020

A BETTER WAY TO READ THE SIGNS OF LAMENESS

Equine lameness can be difficult to detect, but a study from England confirms the reliability of a relatively new tool for identifying subtle signs of musculoskeletal pain in horses.

4 mins read
Equus
Autumn 2020

GO LEGEND

AS SHE BEGINS HER 19TH SEASON IN THE WNBA, THE SEATTLE STORM’S SUE BIRD RECALLS HER EARLY DAYS IN THE LEAGUE, WHAT IT’S BEEN LIKE IN THE WUBBLE AND WHY SHE WORKS SO HARD TO MAKE THE GAME BETTER FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.

10+ mins read
Slam
September - October 2020

Erika Tal-Shir

PLAYTIME, DREAMY WORLD AND TREASURES

3 mins read
Lens Magazine
July 2020

First Fiction 2020

In our twentieth annual roundup of the summer’s best debut fiction, Lauren Groff, Bryan Washington, Paul Lisicky, Sue Monk Kidd, and Sarah Gailey introduce first books by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, Jean Kyoung Frazier, Corinne Manning, Megha Majumdar, and John Fram.

10+ mins read
Poets & Writers Magazine
July - August 2020

At Sue's School of Dance, the show still went on

And it’s still going on—at home

2 mins read
Island Ad-Vantages
5/7/2020

Voyaging Skills

Two sailors with a thirst for voyaging

10+ mins read
Ocean Navigator
Ocean Voyager 2020

My First Cat

First Cats. We all have that special very first cat—the one that we had as a child, or perhaps the first one when we had a home of our own. Maybe one found us, and we hadn’t realized that we needed a cat until then. Or perhaps this special cat was a first rescue, first pedigreed cat or first show cat. These are the stories of some of those special cats.

7 mins read
Cat Talk
April 2020